Natoker Moto (Like a play) is a film that certainly will make you think. The film is essentially the journey of Kheya - the maverick, beyond the time, theatre artist, whose untimely death raises questions on the various issues of the 1960s. The socio-cultural scenario, the emancipation of the womanhood, the hypocrisy of the male dominance, the changing face of bengali theatre and of course the indomitable passion for group theatre that had driven the likes of Ajitesh Bandopadhyay, Rudraprasad Sendupta, Keya Chakraborty, Shambhu Mitra to compromise the world against their unfaltering adherence to the cause of drama - a cause they believed in, they lived for.
The movie starts with the Calcutta Port investigation officer investigating the death of a famous theatre personality Kheya who died untimely while shooting for a bengali cinema. She was apparently sank. Suicide or murder - that was the talk of the town and the officer while going through the pages of her diary and while interrogating discovers the changing equation of the various relationships in the life of the actress. As the truth unfolds the officer confronts the changing roles of various people whose lives are tangled with that of Kheya's. The mentor and the group leader finds himself a minority while the chauvinistic husband captures the leadership with a majority. The changing roles bring about a change that may be considered as a game changer of bengali theatre. The changing face of idealism makes the mentor walks off and the husband takes over the group theatre. He takes immense pride in acquiring a falsehood while the idealist mentor finds emancipation in walking out.
The other pivotal characters whose lives were tied with Kheya's appear as the officer unfolds some beautiful relationships with that of the professor, writer-poet, childhood friend. But the most important of all was certainly with that of her mother. A mother with all cliques fights, yields and stands with Kheya in all her nonconformist decisions, right from her decision to marry the college beau to joining the group theatre, to leaving her job as a professor to walking out of the marriage to deciding to giving off her gold jewellery or to act in movies in an endeavor to raise fund to the dying theatre group.
Debesh Chattopadhyay, the director, takes us through the interludes of reality and stage stretching over two decades (1950 - 1970). Subtle yet precise the delineation of the character of Kheya from a next door household girl to a strong free spirit whose indomitable courage to fight for her cause was beautifully portrayed. Paoli Dam as Kheya is a delight to watch. It's mind boggling to watch the Hate Story girl transform into Kheya with so much conviction.
Paoli Dam immortalizes Kheya. She leaves a mark in all the scenes. In the stage scenes, while enacting Antigone, Noti Binodini, Proposal, she was brilliant. She even gives her voice o the song Ami jokhon meye thaki, a fresh composition by Debajyoti Mishra, very naturally. It would be unfair not to mention the rest of the actors who effortlessly did their role playing with equal finesse. Having said that the ensemble cast with the likes of Rajatava Dutta as the Calcutta Port investigator, Sujan Mukhopadhyay as the professor, Ushashi Banerjee as the poet, Rupa Ganguly as the mother, Saswata Chatterjee as the husband and Bratya Basu as the mentor, can never go wrong.
The last scene is epic. The camera pans on Kheya's face which after much pain and sorrow is now poised on the river. This is followed by a long shot of Kheya's mortal remains wrapped in a 'Murshidabadi silk' floating downstream as Mousumi Bhowmik's Ami shunechhi sedin tumi plays in the backdrop. Amid this the pertinent questions like, "Dol-er jonyo theatre na, theatre-er jonyo dol" or every suicide is a murder put us to serious thinking.
Natoker Moto even though not really a biopic has strange resemblances with the artistic journey of the theatre artist Keya Chakraborty who had met a similar untimely death shrouded in mystery in March 1977 at the age of 34. She was shooting for Swadesh Sarkar's Jeevan Jey Rokom.
I came to know about this much later when everyone was talking about the biopic thing. The film was believable even without any preconceived notion. That for me was the success of the debutante director. The last scene, the portrayal of the theatre personalities along with the uncanny similarity in their names leave us wondering if Kheya and keya are actually the same person. Having said this, more than a biopic, Natoker Moto is a soulful tribute to the group theatres of the 60s by a passionate theatre artist of the current era, Debesh Chattopadhyay.
Natoker Moto is a must watch and you would want to watch it second time round. The last scene is a poignant rendition by Mousumi Bhomick's of Ami shunechhi sedin tumi. This for me was an insatiable climax that sipped into my being leaving me choked. I came out of the hall with a promise to relive the multi dimensional journey of the free willed artist who continues to live on embracing the living art form yet another time.
Photo credit and source: Natoker Moto, Timesofindia, Wikipedia